One of the most serious potential consequences of asbestos exposure is lung cancer. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in America for both men and women. Individuals who have been exposed to asbestos are five times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who have not been exposed. And if those individuals smoke cigarettes or use other forms of tobacco, this risk is intensified:
- Smokers who have not been exposed to asbestos are 11 times more likely to develop lung cancers than non-smokers.
- Heavy smokers who have been exposed to asbestos are 16 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers who have not been exposed.
There are two main types of asbestos lung cancer: Small cell carcinoma and non-small cell carcinoma. Individuals exposed to asbestos are at risk of developing both kinds. Small cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) applies to approximately 20% of all lung cancers and generally develops in the central areas of the lung. This is the most aggressive, fast-moving form of all lung cancers and has the strongest link with current or former smokers.
Non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC) comprises about 80% of all lung cancers. This type of asbestos lung cancer is the most common, with three main types: adenocarcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and large cell carcinomas. The three sub-types of NSCLC are usually treated using similar methods.
Symptoms of Asbestos Lung Cancer
Asbestos lung cancer symptoms are similar to symptoms caused by lung cancer that is unrelated to asbestos exposure. These symptoms include:
- A persistent “smoker’s” cough that doesn't go away with treatment
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Hoarseness that lasts more than 2 weeks
- Pain in the chest, back, arm or shoulder
- Recurring lung infections such bronchitis or pneumonia
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and have a history of exposure to asbestos, you may wish to talk to your doctor.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Asbestos Lung Cancer
Cases of asbestos lung cancer are usually confirmed by a pathologist who reviews tissue samples taken from a patient during a biopsy. Other medical tests, such as blood tests, pulmonary function tests (PFTs), chest X-rays, CT scans and bone scans can help determine the stage of the cancer and whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body.
The treatment for asbestos lung cancer depends on the type of tumor present, the stage of the disease, and the general health of the patient. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of any of these therapies. Some lung cancer patients may choose to participate in a clinical trial to gain access to promising new therapies. As with all asbestos-related diseases, early detection and treatment can make a profound impact on a patient’s life expectancy and quality of life.
If you or a loved one has a history of asbestos exposure, you may wish to visit our Testing for Asbestos-Related Illness page. There you will find information on the various medical tests available for confirming the presence of asbestos-related illnesses and abnormalities. If you would like to learn about possible legal action that can be taken while undergoing mesothelioma treatment, or for any other asbestos-related cancer for that matter, contact an asbestos attorney to learn more about asbestos law and the possiblities of receiving a settlement.